My reaction to the Canterbury earthquake has been rather bewildering. Nonplussed from afar is one thought. I can appreciate, understand and sympathise for the residents of city and environs in terms of their fear, alarm and shock. I’ve seen enough flood, fire, storm and slip to know nature’s power. But an earthquake of that magnitude is hard to imagine. For the secure earth has let you down, wrecked home and livelihood and added doubt about the future.
My yesterday’s blog has Cochrane’s brief poem about his elderly father watching cricket at a time of death. How could he? Well, that’s what people do. We never know till the crisis comes how we will react. Previous actions are not always a reliable predictor though Conrad’s character Lord Jim having been a coward once is driven by circumstances beyond his control not to be so again.
I did not intend to use this image. On such occasions my mind raids the storehouse of literary examples that have survived life’s quakes and nestled into the subconscious. So in times of stress I pick up a book. Reading cricket poems is a relaxation from the free-floating anxieties and concerns in my mind.
Not that much for I can read a poem and think about it and let my mind meander off to the Christchurch, Banks Peninsula and Plains that exists in my memory banks. For this little country lad that city was his first experience of the big smoke. The university was in the centre – town and gown intertwined. The garden city with its stone and brick buildings provided a sense of stability and strength. Now parts of that city from my past have been destroyed or are being pulled down.
The stone Catholic church at the bottom of our road at Little River is badly damaged. For several years I saw it daily. When we came home from Christchurch it's sighting signalled the begining of the township. (The Anglicans had a wooden church, the Presbyterians used the Masonic hall).The road to Pigeon Bay is badly blocked where my parents farmed and my father killed when thrown off his horse. How is the late boyhood Okuti farm? I’d like to know but probably never will.
Rocks can be cleared and roads diverted. But I grieve particularly for those old familiar city buildings. And feel guilt for doing so. They are the past, my past. Such grief is understandable. But the guilt is a waste of time. I keep telling myself that. But feelings will out. Those citizens who live in the region have had their lives shattered. While I experience unnecessary grief. I can’t help except make a monetary donation and phone calls have established the well-being of those for whom I was concerned.
I realise I’m grieving for several things. Youth, the city in which I became a man, familiar places and the realisation that I’ll never see them again, not only are some destroyed but the fact I cannot visit. The disaster has shaken a unacknowledged fault-line of loyalty. That is the basis of my guilt. Misplaced but I feel the better for admitting it. And trying to analyse it. The loss of landscape for me is a memory, for those in Canterbury it is an actuality.
There is another strand – the possibility of the same thing happening here. Part of my grief is for things that have not yet happened. In the cracks that feeling opens up guilt seeps through. The mind says ‘what will be, will be’. The ‘spirit’ says the most helpful thing you do for Christchurch is to live life as successfully as you can. In times of turmoil grief is understandable but guilt is a luxury I can do without.
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